Decision Making

May 23, 2012 · 1 comment

Interesting article by Wray Herbert – Myopic Misery: The Financial Cost of Sadness.

Seems people don’t make the best decisions when sad. In a nutshell they tend to have what Herbert describes as “take the money and run” sort of thinking. They are impatient and not willing to wait and reap future benefit.

I think there is a lot to this. I think a lot of poor decisions I’ve made (some painfully recent) were made because of trying to lift my spirits, or just “take what I can get now” sort of thinking. Perfectly understandable that discouraged people would have difficulty viewing the future in a more positive sense (or at least as much as it requires to defer a decision now for a better pay off later). Who wouldn’t want to feel better now? But then later happens, and with it the realization that the best choice may have been sacrificed for the “pay off now” option.

Which reminds me that I have a Wray Herbert book on my wish list: On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits. I have been reading a lot of decision making books lately, because I really want to understand (as much as possible) what might be driving some of the less than stellar decisions I have made. If you have an interest in that sort of thing I highly recommend 59 SECONDS: Think a little, change a lot by Richard Wiseman (this book is highly digestible and I find myself thinking often about things I’ve read in there … one that is particulary salient is that some people are “extreme maximizers” and some are “extreme satisficers” — maximizers tend to gather and survey all options available and then make a choice, whereas satisficers tend to pick the first thing that comes along that fulfills their needs. I think it is safe to say that I am an extreme maximizer. Maximizers do tend to achieve more, but are less satisfied overall and more prone to suffer from anxiety and depression etc. … no doubt because they are always scanning for better, or worried they made the wrong choice because they are very focused on making the “best” decision … sort of related to perfectionism I suppose and I believe that perfectionists are also not as happy … though likely better at what they do.)

I’ve also read Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness (which I’ve mentioned here before) and also Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide – both were good (though Jonah’s wasn’t as easy a read and was a bit dry overall).

This tendency to “maximize” has had real disadvantages for home and job searches … for example the current house we live in sort of happened by default, because we had exhausted all options and when the time came to make a decision (our other house had long since sold) we had to pick what was simply available, and ironically we had turned down some that were a better choice, in the hope that the “perfect” one would show up. It didn’t. So I try to remember the old adage that Richard Wiseman reminds us of  in 59 Seconds … about happiness being about wanting what you have, vs. not having what you want.

In the end though, I’m not at all sure that I can dial down my tendency to maximize … I wish I could, but I don’t roll that way … but I do tend to limit it when making decisions about unimportant things (as Richard Wiseman suggests in the book) … like buying presents or getting a new outfit etc. (if I don’t place limits on how much time I will spend on shopping or “choosing” I can waste a lot of time, and experience a lot of uncertainly and anxiety, over silly things like what shoes to choose or which present might be the “perfect” one for so and so…)

I haven’t failed. I’ve identified 10,000 ways this doesn’t work.
~ Thomas Edison

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